Some of you may have noticed that I have an interest in most all things military, I also have an interest in the 1940’s, more specifically the second world war. This has led me to invest in a “new” camera, well new to me. Its actually a 38 year old Kiev range finder, a postwar Russian copy of the famed German Contax range finders which were introduced around 1933 and were once the main competitor for Leica.
I intended to buy one of these Russian Contax or Leica clones as a display piece but attempts to find a good looking non working display camera for under a fiver soon evolved into a little bit of a quest to find a reasonable working camera and preferably a Keiv. I wasn’t actually worried about the age of the camera but I did want it to work on 1940’s technology. Then thanks to eBay a Kiev 4, a Contax IIIa copy, arrived along with a very odd desire to put a roll of film through it.
I think I actually imagined I was going to stick a roll of film in this 1940s vintage piece of technology and instantly be able to use it just like my Nikon equipment. However to give you an idea of the differences between this camera and any modern digital SLR or compact I thought about writing a short list of what you don’t get with a Kiev but forget the list. If your camera has the word “auto, automatic, program, mode or electronic before one of its features take it as read the Kiev doesn’t have it. It does have a built in light meter but its not very reliable and you have to read it, work out the exposure settings then manually enter those settings on the camera. Its design requires the camera to be held in a specific way, known as the Contax hold, so the fingers of your right hand don’t block the range finder window and make focusing impossible.
To swap from my Nikon D700 to the all mechanical and manual Keiv for a couple of days was to say the least a culture shock. I am used to knowing my Nikons so well that I pick them up and work them, almost without thought, leaving me free to concentrate on creating images. With the Keiv I was forced into a much slower pre planned, less instant, pace of photography. Not just less instant in the sense you don’t get to see the result straight away but you suddenly realise you have to move the camera away from your eye to set the shutter speed and aperture then again to wind the film on. You are forced to think much more about the image you are about to shoot or want to shoot and makes the grab shot so much more valuable. It has also left me wondering how famed war photographer and Magnum founder member Robert Capa managed the images he did from a pair of Contax II cameras. Despite the totally different way of working forced on me when using the Kiev I think I may just be looking for a Zorki or Fed Leica copy now to sit alongside my Keiv or maybe Ill look for a Kiev clone of Capa’s Contax II.